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From Professional Skating to Academics, UW Student Finds Success

May 7, 2015
man and woman in lab working with cylindrical equipment
Brenna Doherty, a UW petroleum engineering and computer science junior from Columbia, Md., works with Vladimir Alvarado, head of the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, in one of the laboratories. Doherty received a prestigious fellowship to conduct research this summer in Oregon. (UW Photo)

It’s a question that Brenna Doherty gets asked quite often. She’s used to it and doesn’t mind answering, but some have a hard time believing it.

“How does a professional ice skater who has traveled the world performing on cruise ships end up double-majoring in difficult subjects at the University of Wyoming?”

“People don’t believe me a lot of the time. They are like ‘no, that’s not a possibility,’ but then I show them my skating necklace and tell them my different stories about competing internationally, performing on cruise ships and then coming straight here to the University of Wyoming,” Doherty says.

Yes, it’s true. Doherty is a professional ice skater who has skated competitively since age 6, when her family moved to Columbia, Md. She was a nationally ranked skater growing up.

But, she’s more than just an athlete/entertainer.

The UW transfer junior also is a 4.0 student majoring in petroleum engineering and computer science, who made the President’s Honor Roll her first semester on campus last fall. She also received a competitive award: the Mickey Leland Fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Technology Energy Laboratory, where she will conduct research at the laboratory’s facilities in Albany, Ore. Her area of study at UW is reservoir engineering.

After skating professionally for two shows a day -- for the length of the cruise -- to entertain tourists last summer on a Royal Caribbean cruise line, Doherty flew from Barcelona, Spain, and arrived on the UW campus just as fall classes began.

Choosing UW for its Programs

How did this competitive, bright student end up at UW?

“When I realized I wanted to study petroleum engineering, I was actually training out in Aliso Viejo, Calif. I wanted to go on a college road trip. So, on my way home from California to Maryland, my mom and I stopped at seven different universities to check out petroleum engineering programs,” Doherty says. “UW caught my eye because of the affordability, the increasing size of the program and the national prestige that is coming to the university.”

She checked out other schools in Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas, all of which have nationally recognized petroleum engineering programs.

“UW had a better feel to it,” Doherty says. “I think one of the biggest things in my decision was that, when I came to UW, a lot of construction was going on, and also the plan to build a new engineering building.

“The program is expanding and, after talking to an adviser here at UW, it just seemed like the best program for me -- not only because I could be here and major in petroleum engineering and computer science. I could also stay an extra year and get my master’s degree,” she adds.

Doherty completed her associate’s degree work online through Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. Even during training and traveling the world, she maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA.

female figure skater on the ice, with a male skater crouched behind herFellowship Helps Females Interested in STEM Careers

Next month, Doherty will begin her 10-week paid Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship. The fellowship helps underrepresented women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. Participants have opportunities for hands-on research, and each presents a research paper at the conclusion of the program.

Her research will be based on carbon sequestration, analyzing and monitoring old oil wells that are not in use anymore, but have the possibility of being injected with carbon so that carbon dioxide is not released into the atmosphere and, instead, can be directly reinjected into the ground.

“One of the things that drew me to this was that I get the opportunity to write and publish a research paper and then present at the U.S. Department Technical Forum in Pittsburgh at the end of my appointment,” she says. “This is just a great opportunity, and it’s something that I just couldn’t pass up.”

She says women, today, have the opportunity to succeed in STEM fields.

“You don’t see a lot of women in the STEM fields, but there are so many opportunities that come from different fellowships and internships with companies that are trying to increase their diversity by hiring females; the opportunities are just so high,” she says, adding that UW is forward thinking in that regard.

Doherty became interested in petroleum engineering because her father, Dennis, is a mechanical engineer.

“Throughout high school, I realized that I liked math and science, and going into a STEM field is just the way to go as far as job and career opportunities are concerned,” she says.

From Skating to Academic Success

Doherty says traveling the world, and those countless hours of ice skating lessons/training, have helped her academically. Her success on and off the ice and in the classroom have driven her to succeed.

It was evident as a youngster that she embraced skating. She decided to become better as a high school freshman. Doherty trained six hours a day while going to school full time. Her father drove her after school -- she studied while on the road -- from their Maryland home, across the border to the University of Delaware in Newark for training sessions. The day after high school graduation, she moved to California to train for the Olympics. By then, she went into pairs skating competition, finishing as high as 12th nationally.

After her partner retired, Doherty moved on to her next career as a professional ice performer. She signed on with Royal Caribbean International and skated on various cruise ships from January 2014 through last August. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the cruises took her to Cozumel, Mexico; Jamaica, Haiti, Italy, France and, finally, Spain, where she finished her contract before enrolling at UW.

Even today, Doherty skates at the Laramie indoor ice rink just to relax from classes.

“Throughout the years, I have only credited my skating to making me be a better student in general. When I was skating in Delaware, moving to California and then performing on a cruise ship, I always made sure I kept up on my schoolwork,” she says. “When I got to UW, it was kind of like, of course I am going to do my work, of course I am going to do as well as I can because all of these different attributes that I have gained throughout skating. I just use them in my schoolwork. I have not regretted it since I have been here at UW. I love it here.”

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